Study on the Impact of the Satellite Television Community Protection and Promotion Act of 2019

At the direction of Congress, the Copyright Office has conducted a study on the impact of the Satellite Television Community Protection and Promotion Act of 2019 (STCPPA) on the satellite television market for subscribers defined as “unserved households.” The STCPPA went into effect June 1, 2020. On June 21, 2021, the Office sent a letter to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees detailing the results of its study.

The STCPPA makes permanent the satellite carrier distant broadcast signal license found in section 119 of the Copyright Act for certain network and nonnetwork stations transmitted both to recreational vehicles (RVs) and commercial trucks as well as to households in “short markets” that lack one or more of the four most widely available network stations. It removes other previously permitted uses of the license and requires that a satellite carrier provide local service in all 210 designated market areas (DMAs) if it wishes to utilize the license. The STCPPA also amends several provisions of the Communications Act.

Simultaneously with the enactment of the STCPPA, the Appropriations Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives directed the Register of Copyrights to conduct a study on the impact of the expiration of the predecessor to the STCPPA—the STELA Reauthorization Act of 2014 (STELAR)—on the satellite television market. The committee expressed concern that the distant signal provisions of section 119 “may provide a below-market incentive for a mature satellite industry to restrict local news transmission.”

On January 6, 2021, the Copyright Office issued a Federal Register notice of inquiry seeking input from participants in the section 119 satellite television ecosystem on several questions relating to the provision of both local and distant broadcast network signals in the wake of the changes wrought by the STCPPA. Comments were due by March 8, 2021. Additionally, the Office distributed a separate questionnaire to subscribers covered by the “unserved household” definitions in either the STCPPA or STELAR regarding their experience with satellite television provision of local and distant broadcast network stations. The deadline for responses to the questionnaire was also March 8, 2021.

The Office received five responses to its notice of inquiry and none to its questionnaire. Due in part to this thin record, the Office was not able to make any definite conclusions regarding the effect of the STCPPA on the satellite television marketplace. The goal of the STCPPA was to reduce the use of the section 119 license to a smaller group of unserved households, while opening a space for voluntary licensing of distant signals by satellite companies. One year after full implementation, use of the section 119 license continues to diminish dramatically, with only one satellite carrier currently eligible to use it. However, stakeholders dispute the degree to which a distant signal licensing market has opened up thus far, and there appear to be several factors outside of section 119 impacting the viability of such a market. Thus, the Office concludes that the impact of the STCPPA on the satellite television marketplace cannot yet be determined.